Mailbox Monday #717

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has its own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Emma, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

Hunters Point by Peter Kageyama for review in January from literary publicist Stephanie Barko.

SAN FRANCISCO, 1958. World War 2 veteran, Katsuhiro, “Kats” Takemoto is a Nisei, second generation Japanese American and the private detective for those who don’t get noticed by the police or get the attention of traditional private eyes. The city is exploding with population growth and creative expression as the Beat poets and artists fill coffee shops and galleries. When a young Beat poet enlists Kats to keep his family from being pushed out of the Bayview Heights neighborhood by a shady developer, Kats learns that the conspiracy to take over the land around Hunters Point runs deep into Cold War fears and politics. Kats takes on the US government, the Navy, unscrupulous businessmen and the west coast mafia as he and his friends race to find the truth.

Award winning author Peter Kageyama’s debut novel brings the post-war San Francisco scene to life with historic characters including Jimmy Stewart, Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Alfred Hitchcock and Shig Murao, along with the dynamics of racial identity for Japanese Americans finding their footing again in America following the war and internment.

Lo by Melissa Crowe, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize for review.

Lo maps the deprivation and richness of a rural girlhood and offers an intimate portrait of the woman—tender, hungry, hopeful—who manages to emerge. In a series of lyric odes and elegies, Lo explores the notion that we can be partially constituted by lack—poverty, neglect, isolation. The child in the book’s early sections is beloved and lonely, cherished and abused, lucky and imperiled, and by leaning into this complexity the poems render a tentative and shimmering space sometimes occluded, the space occupied by a girl coming to find herself and the world beautiful, even as that world harms her.

In Kind by Maggie Queeney for review.

Part wunderkammer, part grimoire, Maggie Queeney’s In Kind is focused on survival. A chorus of personae, speaking into and through a variety of poetic forms, guide the reader through the aftermath of generations of domestic, gendered, and sexual violence, before designing a transformation and rebirth. These are poems of witness, self-creation, and reclamation.

Sex Work & Other Sins by Julianne King for review.

Unapologetic and honest, King once again forces forbidden topics to the forefront as she grapples with defining morality in the light of survival. Family, poverty, desperation, and humanity are laid bare in this unflinching journey. King returns with writing that is brutal and evocative in its honesty as she drives toward blistering indictments of herself, her family, and society as a whole. Sex Work and Other Sins holds up a mirror to the reader and asks: What would you have done?

Women & Other Hostages by Laura McCullough, purchased.

Poetry, “If you, like the speaker in Laura McCullough’s poem, ‘Almost Nothing Something [stars / plates / cells]’ have grown ‘tired & suspicious of poetry’ WOMEN AND OTHER HOSTAGES will absolutely revitalize you. These are riveting, wholly moving narratives of a life lived. Out of sorrow McCullough invokes a stunning grace where ‘What is stripped from you’ becomes a gift because ‘what’s left behind is all your own.’ Women of all circumstances inhabit these poems. They shed their skin like snakes, ‘memory in flesh,’ and consider the bones of what holds us together in these divisive times. This beautiful book will knock loose what is lodged in your heart.”–Suzanne Frischkorn

What Follows by H.R. Webster, purchased.

“What a lively, funny, lacerating book of poems from this “gutsy little zombie,” H.R. Webster, who knows the world through direct, often brutal, experience, and ravishingly, through the senses. Here is a poet who knows “(t)he refrigerator warm with the animal smell / of butter,” “the shy hysteria / of doves,” “(h)unters storming through the gum trees like house cats / cut from their bells,” and “the dick velvet of the apricot under a thumb,” and also the reality of factory work, “those efficient little gestures, the left hand ready for what the right hand wrought,” that “don’t belong in a poem,” but here they are. Here it all is, trauma and the genius of survival via the genius of imagination married to the genius of truth-telling. There is so much muchness in What Follows–I must follow it.”–Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets

“Whether trafficking in the dark, alluring ambages of personal and cultural sexual powerplay, confronting the brutal indifferences of the body (and of what Roethke called “great nature”) to human volition, or boldly protesting all manner of crimes against the humanimal,  the arresting poems in H.R. Webster’s debut collection dare the reader to turn away from their gorgeously rendered, fearless and feral forays into one writer’s intense, perspicacious sensibility. “All else dims before agony,” Webster writes, and What Follows is part hagiography, part reliquary of a cosmos of beauty, want, and hurt. These poems will draw you into their experiences of the world and show you “desires [you] have failed to imagine.”–Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Madrigalia: New & Selected Poems

“H.R. Webster writes: “It’s the end of the world and we can’t stop saying the word tender.” Every poem in What Follows is both a beautiful and brutally honest account of what follows the end of love. Tender “is the only language left for flesh, for helplessness,” she writes. But Webster’s stance is far from helpless; this book is a brilliant, inventive, and deeply felt exploration of loss. It’s an image-rich catalogue spiked with concise, often painful wisdom that makes me catch my breath. Horses, calves, dried snapdragons, milkvetch, snakes with their “delicate purses of venom,” bees pouring from a breast, wolf spiders, a bus “kneeling like a girl,” and flowers “petaling themselves monstrous” weave an escape plan in the heartscape of longing, translating precisely what it means to inhabit a female body. Densely sonic, often in sonnet form, these poems are so sharp, smart, and vulnerable that I feel forgiven for every wrong I don’t even realize I’ve done. “Beauty opened a door, what tethered me back?” the poems ask, and this book provides an answer. An incredibly redeeming, courageous debut that through its incantations pulls back the curtain on our shared human suffering and offers hope for us all.”–Sarah Messer, author of Dress Made of Mice

Department of Elegy by Mary Biddinger, purchased.

Part post-punk ghost story, part Gen-X pastoral, Mary Biddinger’s poetry collection DEPARTMENT OF ELEGY conjures dim nightclubs, churning lakes, and vacant Midwestern lots, meditating on moments of lost connection. With the afterlife looming like fringe around the edges of this book, Biddinger constructs a view of heaven as strange as the world left behind. These poems escort us from forest to dance floor, bathtub to breakwater, memory into present.

“In DEPARTMENT OF ELEGY, Mary Biddinger examines the hot pink ignorance of youth and the equally vulnerable present. These thrillingly nimble, funny poems empathize with hunger and long for longing.”–Jennifer L. Knox

“Mary Biddinger’s seventh poetry collection guides readers across the dangerous terrain between memory and chaos with confidence, bravado, and–ultimately–hard-won expertise. The speakers’ words themselves sustain a series of exquisite and delicate tensions between utterance and erasure, between form and improvisation, anchored throughout by a series of “Book” poems (“Book of Hard Passes,” “Book of the Sea,” “Book of Misdeeds,” “Book of Transgressions,” “Book of Disclosures,” “Book of Mild Regrets”). The emotional undercurrent of this collection samples such a wide range of life and existence that we are left wondering where time goes and why so quickly, from the ritualistic taste of the insides of gloves, to the realization that once ‘…your friends have perished under tragic circumstances / eventually they become like beloved characters from books.'”–Erica Bernheim

Always a Relic, Never a Reliquary by Kim Sousa, purchased.


In her debut full-length poetry collection, ALWAYS A RELIC NEVER A RELIQUARY, Brazilian American poet, editor and abolitionist Kim Sousa interrogates inheritance by reaching both backwards and forwards: backwards towards her father’s first border crossing and forwards past her own. Centered around a specific personal trauma, a later-term miscarriage, the poems also contain collective trauma: they ask what it means to live in the United States both as immigrant and citizen, addressing State terror and violence as if by megaphone at the protest line. In Sousa’s poems, the personal is political: they are anti-racist, ecocritical and proletariat. She sings diasporic resilience as both a horror and celebration. The poems are haunted but hopeful; here, there is always hope in rage and resistance.

What did you receive?

Mailbox Monday #568

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what I received:

This Is Not a Sky by Jessica Piazza, which I purchased.

Jessica Piazza’s THIS IS NOT A SKY begins with the seed of ekphrastic literature, then yawns, then stretches, then bursts beyond those bounds. Each of these 18 poems borrows a title from the greats—from Raphael and Turner to Warhol and Twombly—and through imagined narratives, takes the reader both inside and outside the paintings. In Piazza’s capable hands, the original art works serve as launch pads, and the poems are glorious departures. Through the guided commentary of an italicized speaker (sometimes commentator, sometimes companion, sometimes voyeur), we are taken to a long hallway wherein the reader wanders from room to room, peeking inside. Behind one door, “The ladies wore boas and nothing else; the beautiful men repeated themselves,” and behind another, “You float, no floors, no doors in the office walls, hidden heavy hook of neck, crook of knee.” THIS IS NOT A SKY is a multi-faceted sensory experience; Piazza employs QR codes in tandem with each poem to allow the reader access to the original work of art alongside its poetic departure. Through her finely tuned ear for carefully considered formal metrical structures and rhyme, Piazza merges music, painting, and poetry to breathe new, strange, and modern life into the grand themes that have long given art its universality: death, love, religion, and truth.

Partial Genius by Mary Biddinger, which I purchased.

What happens when you finally realize that you are really good, but only at unremarkable things? What value does memory hold when weighed against heavier commodities such as money and time and conventional beauty? The prose poems of Partial Genius build upon the form in a collective narrative, working in unison to craft a larger story. Post-youth and mid-epiphany, Partial Genius ponders the years spent waiting for reconciliation of past wrongs, the acknowledgment of former selves, and the desire to truly fit into one landscape or another.

“I love this book so much. A work of meticulous craft and profound originality, Mary Biddinger’s newest collection of prose poems is one of the best books I’ve read on our historical moment and the decades that led to it. PARTIAL GENIUS reads like a dossier of the psychological landscape of late capitalist America and the end of empire. In the tradition of John Ashbery, but wholly original in her own vision and voice, Biddinger draws from a deep well of poetic intellect and wit to illuminate the existential threats and imaginative possibilities of our collective self-destruction. In ‘The Subject Pool’ the speaker watches a man tattoo AU COURANT around her thigh. The tattoo artist has no idea. Every poem is chock-full of revelations in every detail. Reading this book felt like sitting by the fire in some secret location with a double agent, smoking her pipe telling tales of all that went down right in front of our faces, while we were all driven to distraction by outrage. To paraphrase Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, She’s got it all in this book.”–Heather Derr-Smith

What did you receive?

Interview With Poet Mary Biddinger

Originally published at La Fovea

by: Mary Biddinger

We were all suffering from a kind of incandescence.
Would rather fling all the freshly-baked rolls
down the stairs than face the accuser.
I wondered if I was moldering. My mother
didn’t even recognize the ravioli that I edged
with my spinner. I’d filled it with scraps of cloth
anyway. All the girls in my class had hair like Journey
and mouths the slashes of red a wolf leaves behind.
Save me, oh god of direct and swift evacuations.
Some day I would be lecturing a class of students
or getting tangled in the horizontal blinds
in the middle of an emphatic statement. Nobody
there to wield the tin snips. My pack of girls only
a trigger on a night at the county fair, the reek
of funnel cakes scissoring long-sleeve blouses
into the ratty tanks we’d stash in our purses for later.
There was something dangerous under our skin.
I ask my class agai
n to mark up this draft of the globe.
They’ve never been drunk in Nice and vomiting across
multiple electrified rails. In a dream, the double that is more
authentic than the original walks down a street with me.
We stagger in unison. We’ve both had to begin the dessert
again from scratch, not being able to resist a swift punch
to the center of the springform pan. We’d both rather
surrender all of the wooden coins before anyone asks.
Is there anything more exhilarating than a good wait
in damp clothing, or the moment you open your mouth
and realize you know the language after all, you can call
off the dogs or invent the numbers for the payphone,

and the man who shows you to your room won’t leave out
a tour of the aluminum shower down the hall.
He whispers you can both fit in there. He’ll write down
every stranger who leaves a card at the front desk.

I’ve been working on a interview project with Deborah at 32 Poems magazine, and she kindly allowed me to interview past contributors to the magazine. We will be posting the interviews throughout the coming months, and our sixth interview posted on Deborah’s Poetry Blog of 32 Poems on March 3.

I’m going to provide you with a snippet from the interview, but if you want to read the entire interview, I’ll provide you a link for that as well.

For now, let me introduce to you 32 Poems contributor, Mary Biddinger:

1. Not only are you a contributor to 32 Poems, you also founded Barn Owl Review. What “hat” do you find most difficult to wear and why?

As a kid I loved the Dr. Seuss book The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Little did I know that it would be a literal representation of my future. I’m a poet, an editor of Barn Owl Review and the Akron Series in Poetry, and a writing program administrator moving into the directorship of a large, consortial MFA program (the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program, or NEOMFA). Outside that, I’m a mother and homeowner, a book club facilitator and a photographer of random Rust Belt detritus. I’m a person who rarely knows what day it is, but who plans what to cook for dinner a week in advance.

The only conflict between hats seems to be the administrative hat versus the artistic hat. They don’t want to stay on at the same time. The administrative hat wants to cover up the artistic hat. The artistic hat tells me to lie on the floor of my office and think about poems, while the administrative hat tells me to run down the hall and start ransacking the filing cabinet. Thankfully, the editorial hat doesn’t conflict with any of the other hats. It’s sort of the best of both worlds for me.

2. Poetry is often considered elitist or inaccessible by mainstream readers. Do poets have an obligation to dispel that myth and how do you think it could be accomplished?

I remind my students that poetry predates literacy, and that it belongs to all of us. I’ve found that today’s young people (school-agers) are more open to poetry than they were in the past. I think it’s the convergence of freestyle and academic poetry that creates the rift, though it really doesn’t have to be a rift. I try to keep my own poems out of the realm of the allusive and grounded in the everyday. If you’ve seen rebar before, you can “get it.”

3. How do you stay fit and healthy as a writer?

I work out at the gym about four days a week. I lift weights, run on the treadmill, attack the elliptical. I’m naturally an antsy person, and sitting at a desk doesn’t suit me for long periods of time. Working out gives me some balance. Otherwise, I try to eat healthy all of the time. No sweets, lots of protein, fruit, veg. There were times in my life where I existed only on pasta, and now I avoid it. I have a penchant for Basmati rice.

I used to get sick a lot, but so far 2009 has treated me well. I believe in the power of citrus. I drink too much coffee and diet coke, but hope that my good habits outweigh the bad.

4. What current projects are you working on and would you like to share some details with the readers?

My follow up to Prairie Fever, currently titled Hot Corners, is just starting to circulate to some publishers. This book contains a series of persona poems on a fictional reinvention of Saint Monica, patron of wives in bad marriages, among other things. Hot Corners includes non-Monica poems as well, and you can find poems from the book in current or forthcoming issues of Gulf Coast, Fifth Wednesday Journal, The Laurel Review, Memorious, Ninth Letter, North American Review, /nor, Third Coast, and many other journals.

The poem that’s forthcoming in 32 Poems, “The Velvet Arms,” is part of a new series that explores the urban transient hotel as a locus of everyday desire and transgression. The poems aren’t cemented in any particular timeframe, and slide between the 1940’s rooming house and the contemporary SRO (single room occupancy). I was inspired to write this series thanks to an apartment building I lived in for many years when I was in Chicago. It was an old vaudeville-era hotel, and I kept thinking of how I wasn’t so different from the people who had inhabited it before me. A number of the poems from this series, including “The Velvet Arms,” are written in exactly twenty lines of blank verse.

Beyond that series, which may be more of a chapbook that a book-length collection, I am working on a new manuscript that begins where Hot Corners ends. It’s coming together organically, rather than as a premeditated project. I’m not sure where it will go, but I can promise that there will be dirty snow, trembling baguettes, a terrifying carousel pony, and a watermelon tied up in a tree.

Want to find out what Mary’s writing space looks like? What music she listens to while she writes? Find out what she’s working on now, her obsessions, and much more. Check out the rest of my interview with Mary here. Please feel free to comment on the 32 Poems blog and Savvy Verse & Wit.

Mary Biddinger Bio:

Mary Biddinger was born in Fremont, California, in 1974. She grew up in Illinois and Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan (BA in English and Creative Writing), Bowling Green State University (MFA in poetry), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (Ph.D. in English, Program for Writers). She is currently an Assistant Professor at the University of Akron and NEOMFA: Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program, which she will begin directing in the summer of 2009.

***Current Giveaways for the Carnival are here, here, and here. The Kingmaking has one international ARC available and 3 copies for U.S. and Canada residents (no P.O. Boxes). Drood is U.S. and Canada residents (No. P.O. boxes) only.***